Marketing to Women: Breadwinner Wives

February 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

HiResOne of the lingering effects of the “new normal” is the growth in breadwinner wives.  From 2007 to 2011, women’s contribution to household income grew from 44% to 47%.  And in some 40% of marriages, the women are the highest wage earners.

“This past recession caused women’s share of earnings to rise even more significantly, with the largest single year increase,”  said Kristin Smith, a family demographer at the Carsey Institute and a research assistant professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire.

The trend is strongest among couples where the husband has a lower level of education. Women married to men with a high school degree or less contributed 51% of total family earnings in 2011; those married to men with a college degree contributed 42%.

Men dominated jobs suffered the most in the past recession.  From December 2007 to January 2010, America lost 8.7 million jobs, with male-dominated industries, such as construction and manufacturing, suffering the most. Unemployment peaked in October 2009, at 10%, with men’s unemployment at 11.2% and women’s at 8.7%.

As the economy improves, women will tend to stay in their job roles.  Many households lost ground in savings, housing values and retirement accounts.

Other gender-related shifts that have taken place in recent years: Colleges are graduating more women than men; women under 30 earn more than their male counterparts in most of America’s largest cities; and women now comprise about half of the workforce.

An unintended cultural effect was found in a 2010 study by Western Washington University where researchers found that when a woman’s contribution to household income tops 60 percent, the couple is more likely to divorce.  However, this cultural shift may balance out as the new generation starts their households.  The vast majority of young people – about 80% of women and 70% of men across all races, classes, and family backgrounds — desire an egalitarian marriage in which both partners share breadwinning, housekeeping, and child rearing.  The data come from Kathleen Gerson‘s fabulous 2010 book, The Unfinished Revolution.

Marketers should be alert to how women are portrayed in advertising because of this new normal.  Old stereotypes will not serve a brand well, particularly if women are the primary target.

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